Honestly, I feel a tad guilty for liking this book. In case you’ve never read my reviews before, I am very apprehensive about bad boy main characters. I hate the romanticization of violence that often comes in books that feature a criminal kingpin as a hero. Not to mention that those books often blur lines of consent in a way that makes me feel deeply uncomfortable.
*Light Spoilers ahead but nothing that will ruin the book”
And this book well…it has everything that makes me uncomfortable in spades. We first meet our hero—Dorian Blackwell—in a police station where he is suspected of going on a murderous rampage of all the people who wronged him. Dorian, known as the Blackheart of Ben More England’s most powerful criminal—as wealthy as he is cruel. Byrne, and I actually give her credit for this (if you are going to make a villain your hero, you should at least do it realistically) does not sugarcoat Dorian’s journey to his position.
Our heroine Farah Leigh Mackenzie is essentially Dorian’s opposite—right down to the fact that she works in a police station. When she was very little she fell in love and got married. However, her fairytale soon falls apart: her husband murders a priest who tried to molest her and thus was imprisoned and sent to death. The incident has shaped the independent and confident women she has become.
After Dorian kidnaps Farah—for reasons you will discover when you read the book—sparks fly. And so the romance begins…Well, actually, to call their relationship a romance would be a lie. Really it is more of a lust-fueled atom bomb, especially on Farah’s side.
My feminist sensibilities were deeply wounded by this book. The sexy times definitely entered the “gray” area at times; the only things that stopped me from closing my book in disgust at times was that Farah was an active and encouraging partner (not to mention really, really into it). Still, Dorian, that is no excuse for tying someone up without having an explicit discussion about it beforehand or refusing to leave when she is bathing.
So, why—when this book features so many tropes that I hate—am I about to give this book a decent rating?
Well first, and I think most importantly, I felt like Dorian honestly respected Farah—and not in the super annoying “I respect her for her innocence, goodness, and virginity” way that these sort of books often feature. There was real respect there: for Farah’s strength, for her intelligence, and for her resilience. And I’m just such a sucker for respect.
Secondly, this book was not annoying. The risk with this sort of plot is that oftentimes the book drowns in angst. And yet Byrne does an amazing job of making her it doesn’t. It was extremely well written and despite the far-fetched plot, the emotions felt very real. The characters were very three-dimensional: Bryne does not just excuse Dorian’s criminality just by referencing his terrible past and Farah is never portrayed as some sort of beacon of light. And well these kinds of bad boy stories will never be my favorite, I have to admire when they are done well.